The 2017 Oscars took strides toward diverse representation

Hollywood begins to remake history

Claire Moriarty, Opinions Editor
Originally published March 14, 2017

Fletcher Anderson

Fletcher Anderson

The release of the nominees for the 89th Academy Awards announced the breaking of two records: the acclaimed feature “La La Land” garnered 14 nominations, the most in history. And six black actors and actresses were nominated, also the most in history.

At first, six seemed like a measly number, given that the Oscars have aired 89 times over the course of the past century. But, after some consideration, I came to the decision that in the wake of last year’s awards—in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite, that is—the number should be regarded with positivity.

Hollywood, though it likely wants to come off as “all-inclusive,” has had a serious diversity problem in the past. According to a study conducted by the University of Southern California on films and TV shows released between September of 2014 and August of 2015, only 28.3 percent of speaking characters were from non-white racial or ethnic groups. This level of representation is shockingly low, given how diverse America’s population is.

They also can’t seem to stop casting white actors in films that aren’t actually about white people. This has occurred in Hollywood productions throughout history, including but not limited to the casting of Natalie Wood as a Puerto Rican girl in “West Side Story.”

That was in 1961, but Matt Damon recently starred in “The Great Wall,” which is in fact about the Great Wall of China. I didn’t think that was possible when I first heard about it, given that the lead actor was white. To be fair, the movie was a colossal flop, and Damon was playing a European mercenary, but is that any excuse? I figure if you’re making a movie about the Great Wall of China, you should allow it to be about Chinese people.

So, when awards season 2017 rolled around, I was both irritated with and disappointed in the film industry, mostly because of “The Great Wall.”

After the Oscars, I felt a little more warmth for it.

In a way, six is a measly number. But we can’t forget the four black filmmakers recognized in the Best Documentary category, or the multiple nods that Barry Jenkins, director of “Moonlight,” received. We also can’t forget Dev Patel, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his work in “Lion.”

Political statements abounded that night, some more blatant than others. Actors including Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ruth Negga appeared on the Red Carpet with blue ribbons pinned to their clothes in support of the American Civil Liberties Union. Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian director whose film “The Salesman” won in the Best Foreign Language Film category, boycotted the Oscars in support of the six countries that are being affected by the immigration ban. I found the whole thing inspiring, empowering and totally awesome.

And then it got even better. “Moonlight,” a groundbreaking film about a gay black man that was also directed by a black man, won Best Picture.

It so deserves that award. It is unique, poetic, moving, spectacularly acted and above all a fascinating and tender portrayal of the impoverished “inner city” black kid and the people around him. “Moonlight” won Best Picture not because the Academy wants to pander their diverse and accepting nature, but because it truly was the best picture of the year.

Both Hollywood and the world we live in have a long way to go when it comes to diverse representation. But the 89th Academy Awards gave me hope that we’ll get there.